Zucchini Basil Muffins revisited: Low-carb and gluten-free version

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In November, Just Bento's big sister site Just Hungry will be 7 years old. That's 49 in dog years and probably about 80 in food-blog years - so many food blogs that were around when Just Hungry was born are no longer with us. Anyway, one of the early recipes I posted there that is still popular now is for zucchini basil muffins. It's also the most popular savory muffin around our house to this day.

Since I'm trying to come up with more low-carb recipes these days, and buoyed by the success of the green onion and thyme muffins, I set about trying to make a low-carb version of the zucchini basil muffins. My first attempt was a disaster! I tried simply switching the flour for a mix of ground almond and hazelnut, but the 'muffins' that results were soggy and really greasy. I eventually figured out what that is - wheat flour absorbs oil, while ground nuts do not (since they are very high to start with) so the 2/3rds cup of olive oil called for in the original recipe seems like way too much in a batter that has no flour. The flour in the original recipe was also absorbing moisture from the shredded zucchini.

I finally figured out how to make non-greasy, low-carb, no wheat flour (and thus gluten free) zucchini muffins, by taking a look at a traditional Provençal recipe called pain de courgettes. Pain de courgettes actually is not a pain or bread, it's more of a moist, eggy terrine, baked in a loaf pan, sliced and served chilled or at room temperature. We can buy readymade mixes for pain de courgettes at grocery stores around here, but it's really easy to make from scratch too. A regular pain de courgettes recipe usually has some chapelure or finely ground breadcrumbs added to it for body, but i replaced that with a mixture of ground almonds and chickpea flour (gram flour). Chickpea flour does have some carbohydrate content, but there's only a little of it in the whole recipe - and it is free of wheat gluten.

These muffins have a very different texture from the original zucchini-basil muffins - they are soft and moist, while the originals are bouncier and have more bite to them. The flavor profile of zucchini, basil, olive oil and Parmesan cheese is the same though. They can be used as muffins by low-carb or gluten-free people, or as a vegetarian protein too. They're great for bentos, as well as for breakfast.

Recipe: Low-carb, gluten-free zucchini-basil muffins

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Makes 12 regular sized or 24 mini muffins

  • 3 medium zucchini or courgette (about 14 oz or 400g in weight before cooking)
  • 1 small onion
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 120 ml (1/2 cup) plain Greek style (thick) yogurt
  • 1 cup finely shredded fresh basil leaves
  • 100g / 3 oz (about 3/4 cup) finely ground almonds or almond flour
  • 60g / 2 oz (about 2/3 cup) chickpea flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • About 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Grana Padano (or similar hard grating) cheese

Chop up the onion and zucchini finely. Heat up a large sauté pan and add the olive oil. Sauté the onion until it is turning translucent, then add the zucchini. Sauté, stirring to let the moisture evaporate. The amount of zucchini plus onion should reduce down to about 2 cups worth. Take off the heat and set aside.

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C / 350°F. Grease your muffin tins if necessary. (I used silicone muffin cups, as I usually do).

Combine the dry ingredients - the ground almonds, chickpea flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs until foamy. Add the cooked zucchini and onion, yogurt, and basil leaves. Add the dry ingredients plus about half of the grated cheese to the bowl and mix well to combine. Pour the batter into muffin cups or tins, and sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top of each.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown on top.

To freeze, let cool down completely, then pack in freezer-proof bags or containers. If you used silicone muffin cups, you can freeze them cups and all if you want. Defrost for a minute in a microwave, or just pack a frozen one into your bento box and it will defrost by lunchtime (unless you are in a very cold environment).